How we get so off-track

Dec 22, 2014

We are born into this world a pretty complete package of personality, soul and spirit. We are created uniquely, each with certain talents and gifts and challenges, with an agenda, a potential, for our lives which is the province of the soul and the Indwelling Spirit to realize. And we are born into a human family whose parents are to mold and train the child so that s/he fits into the culture of his family, later into the culture of the school and more broadly into the culture of their religion and society.

As babies we may have no conscious knowing about the agenda for our lives or about our soul or the indwelling Spirit. All this lies in wait, a potential within us. Unless we have such a life-defining talent such as music or sports or art, it may take half our lifetime to discover what we were created to do on this earth. Some people are never able to access this knowledge about their potential.

For the child, from infanthood on, he or she is learning how to be in this new world, to learn the do’s and don’ts, to adapt his personality to the family and society s/he lives in. It takes a long time for a child to become so conditioned that he pretty automatically follows the rules, so that she can know what is right and wrong, so that the adaptation is complete.

But I think that when we are children, we misunderstand a lot about this training. By the time we are 4 or 5 and “should” know better, every time we fail to obey, because we forget or maybe are rebellious or for many different reasons, we build up guilt and shame within us that greatly impacts our own self-image. Sometime around the age of 6 we make a decision about how the world works for us(or doesn’t) and how we have to be in the world to get what we want. This decision forms our self-concept which we carry way into adulthood.

This decision happens before the cognitive mind that can weigh decisions, see things in context, and understand what is going on begins to develop around age 9. The cognitive brain continues to mature through the high school years and beyond. So we as young children are deciding our own self-concept based pretty much on emotions or how we feel about ourselves.

And here are some of the basic assumptions we make about ourselves, based on my readings in Enneagram personality typing.[1] “I have to be perfect.” “I have to take care of everyone else to get what I want.” “I only get rewarded when I succeed at something, so I have to keep succeeding no matter what.” “I have to hang on to what I wish would happen no matter what.” “I can’t spend a lot of time with people, I have to get away.” “Nothing ever works out for me.” “No one will ever make me do anything.” “I have to make everyone else do what I want.” “I’m on the fence about everything; I can’t decide.”

These assumptions, and perhaps others, become the driving force behind our decision-making. Largely unconscious, we hope they will get us what we want in life, but they are not based in truth, only in the feelings of a very young child. If you’re raised in a loving family, you will suffer from these assumptions. If you’re raised in an angry or abusive family and suffer sexual or psychological abuse, then your self-concept is usually much worse.

What is the underlying assumption you decided in your childhood? Mine was “Nothing ever works out for me.” When I finally understood this to be the bottom line of all decision-making for me, I had to laugh. While my life has been full of challenges and pain, it has been good. And much of my suffering has come from this basic assumption of mine, the fear and anxiety that accompanied this assumption that life would not work out for me. The emotional decision I made at a young age just wasn’t based in reality, only in how I processed what had happened to me in those early years.

These decisions about our self concept are the stuff of our small selves, our egos, and this thinking reinforces our neediness and ego drives. Once we have the chance to see them in the context of our lives, they soon become something that ruled us in the past, but are not relevant to today. We are more able to live in the truth of what is, rather than continue to see with the fogged up lenses of our childhood.

It is around mid-life that the potential arises in us to examine our lives from a different broader, more integral perspective. If we’re fortunate, by mid-life all that we’ve been taught begins to break down, it hasn’t offered the satisfaction that was promised. And we begin to look at life in a new way. We might even pay some attention to the voice of our soul and to the Spirit. “What do I really want?” or “What do I long for?” can become a driving force. Or we listen to the shy soul’s agenda for us. Or we identify the “still, small voice”[2] within. Or some catastrophe happens in our lives that we’re unprepared for. And so we have to find a new way to live.

And so we try to form a life with integrity and connectedness. We, even if we’re already Christians, begin to form our own beliefs about God based on our experiences with the Lord rather than what we’ve been taught. I was listening to a psychologist on the radio last night as I headed home. He was reporting research on satisfaction levels which drop through the 20’s and 30’s and 40’s, but really begin to raise again through the 50’s[3] to the end of life which form a U-shaped curve. As we follow the culture’s dictates, as we have been trained, our satisfaction decreases; when we begin to follow our own created selves, it increases. Isn’t that interesting?

It is my belief that we are created for a certain purpose with the gifts and talents and even challenges that prepare us to fulfill that purpose. When we begin to let go of the decisions we made about ourselves as young children and seek to live in reality, then our lives really begin to open up. We open up to a broader view of our lives, we pay attention to the “still, small voice within,” and to our soul’s agenda. And then we really begin to live out our potential and follow the agenda that God created for us at our conception. That is how we discover our purpose.

Next week I’ll be writing about our purpose.



Questions to ponder over the week: Have I discovered what my own “bottom line,” the self concept that I formed as a child? Do I see my life from my own inner child’s viewpoint or do I see the truer version of what is and has been. What is the point in me when real gratitude starts and how can I get there?


May all the beauty and wonder, the joy and peace brought by the Christ Child’s birth be yours this Christmas. May you cling to the real meaning of Christmas in the midst of a very worldly celebration. In faith and love, Pat

[1] If you want to read about Enneagram personality typing, here is a place to start:

[2] 1 Kings 19:9-12 The Lord appears to Elijah

[3] Professor Arthur Stone of the U. of Southern California

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *